Tuesday, 31 August 2010

La Soufrière (Werner Herzog)

In 1976, the sleeping giant of La Grande Soufrière, a volcano on the island of Basse-Terre (part of the Guadeloupe archipelago), awoke with all the signs that a catastrophic eruption was imminent. After a mass evacuation of the natives, Werner Herzog and 2 cameramen travelled to the doomed island to investigate a newspaper story that all but one of the of Basse-Terre residents had left for safely elsewhere...

La Soufrière is the kind of film that only Herzog would make. Despite the warnings that the volcano could erupt with the power of several atomic bombs, Herzog was compelled to go to the island and find out what strange force was keeping this man in harm's way. In fact, Herzog found a handful of resilient natives who were calmly awaiting the Day of the Final Judgement to arrive on Basse-Terre. Not wanting to miss the opportunity of filming a volcano in all its fury, Herzog and his crew hiked as close to the action as possible before clouds of poisonous sulphur, and destructive shock waves forced their retreat. Luckily the only casualty was cameraman Ed Lachman's glasses which were inadvertently left behind on the mountain.

In the end La Soufrière defied all scientific predictions and the volcano returned to its slumber which Herzog admits in his closing narration, was something of an "embarrassment", but the film remains a remarkable work, and with its eerie scenes of stray animals wandering around the deserted city streets, its nothing less than a genuine record of the apocalypse.


  1. Although we are prone to the sight of the odd stray animal here in the countryside, it is an arresting aspect that you have focused on here and makes us realise that it is not only humans who would have to seek retreat but the birds and the bees too. These 2 have also maybe heard that the Arc only accepts passengers in pairs.

  2. I wonder did these animals have some sort of intuition of the impending disaster – these two donkeys would have almost certainly been vaporized had the volcano exploded… Certainly, the sequences of the would-be apocalypse – the empty streets, the abandoned shops and factories precede the History channel’s Life After People series.

  3. Werner Herzog is a wild man - this sounds very fascinating and is a movie I'll be keeping an eye out for - even if it doesn't end with a bang!